Social class and educational achievement statistics

The relationship between social class and educational achievement is one of the main topics within the sociology of education at A level.

The problem is, the government does not routinely collect statistics on the relationship between social class and educational achievement!

Instead, we have to reply on statistics which look at the relationship between household income and educational achievement, rather than the relationship between social class and educational achievement.

Household income is related to social class, but income alone does not tell us exactly which social class someone is from. Some parents might work in traditionally ‘working-class’ jobs which could be very well paid, such as the building trades; while other parents might be earning a limited amount of money working part-time in traditionally middle-class jobs – as private music teachers for example.

Also, income does not necessarily tell us about the cultural aspects of class – how well educated parents are or how much social and cultural capital they have, for example.

Thus you must remember that household income indicators are only proxies for social class, they may not show us precisely what a child’s social class background is.

Two sources we might use to to examine the relationship between social class and educational achievement are:

  • Free School Meal (FSM) achievement rates compare to non FSM achievement rates
  • Data on independent school results compared to government schools results.

The Achievement of Pupils Eligible for Free School Meals

Three is a 13.7% achievement gap in the ‘attainment 8’ scores of pupils eligible for Free School Meals compared to non-FSM pupils

In 2019 parents in households with a gross annual income of no more than £16190 were entitled to claim for Free School Meals. (Source).

This means that approximately the poorest 1/6th of households are eligible, so the above statistics are comparing the results of children from the poorest 1/6th of households with the richest 5/6ths all lumped into one.

One limitation with the above statistics is that if you were to stretch this comparison out and compare the poorest 1/6th with the next poorest 1/6th and so on up to the riches 1/6th, you would probably see much starker differences.

Independent School Results Compared to State Schools

If we look at the top 10 independent school results compared to the top 10 state schools, we see quite a difference in results.

In order to be able to pay the fees to get your children into an independent school, you have to be comfortably in the top 10% of households. There are a few scholarships for pupils from poorer households, but not in significant numbers!

Top 10 independent schools

Top 10 state schools

You can see a clear 8-9% difference in achievement in favour of the fee-paying independent schools.

One advantage of the above stats is that it’s much more likely that you’re seeing the solidly upper middle class in these schools, rather than this just being about income.

However, we are only talking about the the top 5-10% of the social class scale, we are not able to make social class comparisons more broadly.

Conclusions

If we use the above data, we can see there is a drastic difference in the achievement rates at the very top and the very bottom of the household income scales.

IF we think household income is a valid indicator of social class, we can also say there are huge social class differences in educational achievement based on the above statistics.

However, we don’t have systematic, annual data on the relationship between the vast majority of middle income households and educational achievement.

Sources

DFE Education Statistics

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The Extent of Material Deprivation in the UK

2019 statistics show a decline in the number of households in material deprivation

Material deprivation* refers to the inability to afford basic resources and services such as sufficient food and heating.

To put it more simply, all of those who suffer material deprivation in the UK  exist in a state of relative poverty, and some may exist in a state of absolute poverty.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) recent publication: Living Standards, Poverty and Inequality in the UK: 2019 is a good source informing us about the extent of material deprivation in the UK today. 

The Institute for Fiscal Studies says that “families are classified as materially deprived if they feel they cannot afford a certain number of items or activities, with greater weight assigned to items that most families already have.”

According to the IFS, between 8-15% of households are suffering from material deprivation, depending on what threshold you use. (If you want to know how the thresholds are worked, out click on the link above!).

In order to figure out how many households are suffering material deprivation, households are asked whether they can afford a number of items, such as the ones below. The more items a family can’t afford, and the higher up the list they appear in the chart below, the more likely a family is to be classified as ‘materially deprived’.

You can see that there is a downward trend in material deprivation between 2010-11 (careful, the chart above is over a longer time scale!)

Related concepts

The above study focuses on the trends in material deprivation as well as trends in both absolute and relative poverty. All three indicators are different ways of measuring poverty.

Related Posts 

Evaluating the Extent of Material Deprivation in the UK

The effects of material deprivation on education

Something Extra…

*A fuller definition of material deprivation is provided by the The OECD which defines Material deprivation as ‘the inability for individuals or households to afford those consumption goods and activities that are typical in a society at a given point in time, irrespective of people’s preferences with respect to these items.’ It’s work noting at this point that this is a relative rather than an absolute measurement of poverty.

Historical Material

I wrote this back in 2015, it’s my old version that I didn’t want to delete! It shows you some different, historical definitions/ measurement of material deprivation

The government’s material deprivation rate measures the proportion of the population that cannot afford at least four of the following items:

  1. To pay their rent, mortgage, utility bills or loan repayments,
  2. To keep their home adequately warm,
  3. To face unexpected financial expenses,
  4. To eat meat or protein regularly,
  5. To go on holiday for a week once a year,
  6. A television set,
  7. A washing machine,
  8. A car,
  9. A telephone.

As can be seen from the statistics below, the number of people suffering from ‘severe’ material deprivation has remained stable in recent years, but the numbers of people struggling to pay for holidays and meet emergency expenses has increased. Percentage of population unable to afford items, UK 2005-2011

The Celebrity Boat Race – Screamingly Upper Middle Class

The over-representation of the upper middle classes in charity sporting events

I was unfortunate enough to catch an A BBC Breakfast item on the celebrity boat race for Sports Relief on Wednesday.

This featured Louis Minchin interviewing some other celebrities and James Cracknell about the upcoming charity boat race in which four teams from BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky will be competing to raise money for mental health charities.

An mostly upper middle class celebrity love-in…

Now I know rowing is traditionally associated with independent schools, as are media celebrities, and I detected a distinct upper middle class twang going around the self-congratulatory interviews. This made me wonder what the class background of the boat race celebs was.

Given that 6-7% of the population is independently schooled, I did a quick trawl to figure out how over-represented (if at all) the upper middle classes are in this event.

A note on the methods

I simply looked up the celebs on Wikipedia, and about half had information about their schooling, in one case (Rachel Parris) the school had information on her.

NB there are some data gaps below, and I stopped at 50% as I’ve only got so many hours in the day….

Team BBC – at least 33% Independently schooled, 4* over-represented compared to the national average.

  • Louise Minchin –  privately not educated at St Mary’s School, Ascot
  • Steve Backshall – unknown, but brought up in a smallholding in Bagshot, Surrey which suggests a reasonably wealthy background
  • Maya Jama – educated at Cotham school (not independent)
  • Michael Stevenson – unknown
  • Jay Blades – probably not privately educated, as from Hackney
  • Rachel Parris – independently educated at Loughborough selective school

Team ITV – probably 50% privately educated, or about 8* over-represented

  • Matt Evers – don’t know (N/B American)  
  • Colson Smith – don’t know
  • Isabel Hodgins – independently educated at the Sylvia Young Theatre School
  • Dr Ranj Singh – don’t know
  • Andrea Mclean – probably independently educated, brought up in Trinidad and Tobago
  • Romilly Weeks  – she’s a Royal Correspondent and lives in London, so almost certainly independently educated.

Analysis – actually not bad social class representation, for the media.

I’d had enough of digging after 12 celebs, so I’m basing this on a 50% sample.

  • Approximately 45% of the celebs are independently educated, which means the independently schooled are about 7* over-represented compared to what they should be.
  • Having said that, the independently schooled make up more than 60% of media professionals so this boat race line up is actually MORE representative of the working classes than might be expected.
  • Based on my sample ALL the white women have been independently educated. Minority women and men are more likely to (probably) be from a working class background).

I’ve rounded up as the two British Olympic rowers are also independently schooled: James Cracknell and Helen Glover (in fairness on a sports scholarship).

Jame Cracknell – An upper middle class jaw jaw?

Over to you for some further research

NB, over to you if you want to do some further research, I’ve included the C4 and Sky teams below. I’d be surprised if they didn’t have similar percentages.

Let me know in the comments if these findings are generalisable!

Team Channel 4

  • Jamie Laing
  • Cathy Newman
  • Chelsee Healey
  • Amanda Byram
  • Tom Read Wilson
  • Ed Jackson

Team Sky

  • Dermot Murnaghan
  • Natalie Pinkham
  • Hayley McQueen
  • Lloyd Griffith
  • Nazaneen Ghaffar
  • Carl Froch

Media representations of social class

How are different social classes represented in the mainstream media? 

This post looks at how the monarchy, the wealthy, the middle classes, working classes and benefits claimaints (‘the underclass’) are represented, focusing mainly on British television and newspaper coverage.

Generally speaking the ‘lower’ the social class, the more negative the media representations are, arguably because the mainstream media professionals disproportionately come from upper middle class backgrounds.

NB Social class is  a tricky concept and you might like to review it here before continuing.

Media representations of social class.png

Representations of the Monarchy

According to Nairn (2019) after WWII the monarchy developed close ties with the media industry and worked with them to reinvent itself as ‘the royal family’ and since then they have been represented in the media as a family that are ‘like us but not like us’, and the narrative of their lives is presented as a soap opera, and is part of our day to day media fabric, which encourages us to identify with the royals.

Media representations of royalty also reinforce a sense of national identity: The Queen is the ultimate figure head of the country and royal events form part of our annual calendar, as well as the fact that royals are often in attendance at other national events, such as sporting events for example.

Media representations of wealth

The very wealthy are generally represented positively in the media, for example Alan Sugar and the Dragons on Dragons Den.

The constant media focus on the lifestyles of wealthy celebrities tends to glamourize such lifestyles, suggesting this is something we should all be aspiring to, rather than focusing on the injustice of how much these people are paid compared to ordinary people.

representations wealth media.PNG
Are the wealthy generally represented positively in the media?

The Middle Classes

Middle class (higher income) families seem to be over-represented on day time T.V. especially – in shows such as homes under the hammer, escape to the country and antiques shows featuring typically very high wealth/ income families, and yet presenting them as ‘the norm’.

Most T.V. presenters are middle class, and so they are more likely to identify with middle class guests compared to working class guests, reinforcing the concerns of former as more worthy of attention.

Most journalists and editors are privately educated which means that the news agenda is framed from a middle class point of views.

The working classes

There are relatively few shows which focus on the reality of the lives of working class people.

Mainstream soaps tend to be the most watched representations of the working classes

Jones (2011) suggests the working classes are represented as feckless racists who hate immigration and multiculturalism – coverage of Brexit seems to offer support for this.

Benefits claimants (‘The Underlcass’)

Coverage tends to focus on the poverty of individuals rather than the structural features of society such as government policy which created the underclass.

Media coverage of the underclass is generally negative and they are often scapegoated for society’s problems. Benefits Street is a good example of this.

Please see this extended post for more details on how the media portray benefits claimants in stereotypical ways.

 

 

Media representations of benefits claimants

In this post I summarize some recent sociological research which suggests newspapers and ‘reality T.V. shows represent benefits claimants in a limited range of stereotypical ways, focusing on them as lazy, undeserving scroungers engaged in immoral, wreckless and criminal behaviour.

A lot of the research below also reminds us that media representations in no way reflect the reality of being unemployed and claiming benefits in the UK.

This research is relevant to the A-level sociology media topic: representations of social class.

Stereotypes of benefits claimants in newspaper articles 

Baumberg et al’s (2012) research ‘Benefits Stigma in Britain’ analysed a database of 6,600 national press articles between 1995-2011.

Baumberg et al found an extraordinarily disproportionate focus on benefit fraud: 29% of news stories referenced fraud. In comparison the government’s own estimate is that a mere 0.7% of all benefits claims are fraudulent.

Common language used to describe benefits as ‘undeserving’ included:

  • Fraud and dishonesty (including those such as ‘faking illness’);
  • Dependency (including ‘underclass’ and ‘unemployable’);
  • non-reciprocity/lack of effort (e.g. ‘handouts’, ‘something for nothing’, ‘lazy’, ‘scrounger’); •
  • outsider status (e.g. ‘immigrant’, ‘obese’)

Language used to describe benefits claimants as ‘deserving’ included:

  • need (‘vulnerable’, ‘hard-pressed’);
  • disability (‘disabled’, ‘disability’).

In general, Tabloid newspapers such (especially The Sun) focused on representing benefits claimants as undeserving, while broadsheets such as The Guardian were more likely to focus on representing benefits claimants as ‘deserving’.

news reporting unemployment.jpg

NB – The Sun and The Mail are Britain’s two most widely circulated newspapers. 

Stigmatising benefits claimants

Finally, the study found an increase in articles about benefits claimants which focused on the following stigmatising themes:

  • fraud
  • ‘shouldn’t be claiming’ (for reasons other than fraud)
  • never worked/hasn’t worked for a very long time
  • large families on benefits
  • bad parenting/antisocial behaviour of families on benefits
  • claimants better off on benefits than if they were working
  • claimants better off than workers
  • immigrants claiming benefits

More neutral/ positive themes included:

  • compulsion of claimants (e.g. workfare, benefit conditionality)
  • cuts to benefits
  • need

As with the themes of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’, Tabloids produced more stigmatising content than the the broadsheets.

negative reporting benefits claimants.jpg

Stereotypes of benefits claimants in reality T.V. shows 

Ruth Patrick (2017) has analysed the representations of those on benefits and in poverty on reality television shows such as ‘Benefits Street’ and Benefits Britain: Life on the Dole.

The number of such shows has exploded in recent years, but while they claim to provide and honest ‘realistic’ insight into  lives of Britain’s benefit claimants and those living in poverty, Patrick and others argue they are sensationalised and present stereotypical representations of those on welfare.

If we look at the opening scenes for the first series of Benefits Street for example, these featured:

  • sofas on the pavement,
  • men on streets drinking cans of lager,
  • women smoking cigarettes on their doorsteps.

Overall such shows present benefits claimants as lazy shirkers who don’t want to work, and as people who are different to the hard-working majority.

Such shows emphasize the difference between the working majority (‘us’) and the workless minority (‘them’) and invites us to identify ourselves against benefits claimants, and possibly to see claiming benefits as something which is a choice, long term and morally wrong, rather than as something which is a necessity, usually a short term stop-gap before a return work.

This interview with Jordan, who took feature in Benefits Britain as a claimant offers an insight into how negative representations of the unemployed are socially constructed by media professionals:

Jordan claims that he usually keeps his flat tidy, but was told by the producers to deliberately not tidy it up before they came round to shoot, because it would make people feel more sorry for him.

He also claims that the media crew bought alcohol and cigarettes for the shoot, and told the ‘claimants’ that if they didn’t consume them before the shoot was over they’d take them away again, which led to lots of images of the cast drinking and smoking, when Jordan claims he would only usually do this on special occasions.

Relevance of this to A-level Sociology/ Media studies….

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that newspapers and ‘reality’ T.V. present you with the reality of ‘life on benefits’ – in fact both of these sources present highly sensationalised accounts of what it’s like to actually be unemployed.

All of the above research is based on careful content analysis which picks out the main ways in which benefits claimants are stereotyped and thus represented in a limited way.

This post has only focused on representations, forthcoming posts will focus on why mainstream media professionals choose to represent benefits claimants in negative, stereotypical ways.

Sources 

 

The British Media: a very upper middle class institution

Michael Buerk recently lamented the retirement of John Humphrys from Radio Four’s today programme – because his departure means one less working class voice on the BBC: once Humphrys goes all of the remaining Today presenters will have been privately educated.

In fact Buerk suggests that Humphrys further represents an older generation of media presenters: he broke into media in a more meritocratic age, when it was possible for ordinary working class kids to be socially mobile and get ‘middle class jobs’.

john humphrys.PNG
John Humphrys: the only working class presenter in the BBC village?

Today it seems this is much harder, and there’s a lot of evidence that our media companies are stuffed full of middle class media professionals, with the working classes woefully underrepresented behind the scenes.

Below I summarise some of the stats, all of which offers support for the neo-marxist theory of ownership and control of the media.

Surveys on the class backgrounds of media professionals show they are overwhelmingly upper middle class

Research conducted by Sam Friedman of the London School Economics found that

67% of Channel 4 staff had parents who worked at professional or managerial level and only 9% identify themselves as coming from a working class background.

The BBC came out best, but still had 61% of staff reporting they were from upper middle class backgrounds. 17% of staff and 25% of BBC management when to private school, well above the 7% for the population as a whole.

ITV only provided data for those in senior management roles, so are probably even more upper-middle class than Channel 4.

OFCOM has criticized the BBC for being too white, middle-aged and middle-class, and being out of touch with a wide tranche of the UK population.

Stef McGovern argues that BBC needs to do more to recruit people from working class backgrounds, and she even thinks that she’s paid less because she’s not posh, suggesting that people from wealthy backgrounds such as Fiona Bruce are able to negotiate better pay deals, at least partly because of their class.

Why are media professionals mainly upper middle class?

This brief article from the inews suggests that part of the reason the BBC and Channel 4 are so middle class is because they are both based in London, as are 2/3rds of media jobs. It also reminds us that to break into a job in media, people typically have to do long internships for very low pay, which is only possible with several months of parental support, which is much easier for upper middle class parents with 6 figure salaries to be able to afford.

According to a recent OFCOM report on how people of different socio-economic backgrounds are portrayed in the BBC:

  • working class people generally feel as low there are fewer representations of them than there are of the middle classes.
  • One programmer from the BBC even said that: “Too often people [from working class backgrounds] are merely the subject of documentaries made by white middle-class people for white middle-class people”.

How the rich cheat their way into elite universities

Federal prosecutors in the U.S. recently charged dozens of wealthy parents with committing fraud in attempts to get their children into elite universities such as Yale and Stanford.

Parents have adopted strategies which range from faking athletic records and test scores to outright bribes.

Lori Loughlin (a sitcom star) and her husband Mossimo Giannulli (a fashion designer) allegedly paid $500 000 to get their daughters into the University of Southern California’s rowing crew, even though they weren’t actually rowers.

Felicity Huffmann (of Desperate Housewives) allegedly paid $15 000 to an invigilator to ensure her daughter did well on a SATs test.

The institution which facilitated all of this elite education fraud was called ‘The Key’ – a ‘college counselling business’ in Sacremento which paid off invigilators to provided certain students will correct answers or even correct their test sheets. He also bribed college sports officials to take on students who didn’t play sports.

This was all covered up by getting parents to donate to a bogus charity to help disadvantaged students, in reality of course the money went to the bent officials faking the test scores etc.

NB – this may not actually be as bad as the legal situation – if you look at Harvard’s entrance stats, 42% of students whose parents made donations got in, compared to only 4.6% of the wider population, and of course the whole of the university system is already stacked in favour of the rich given that it’s so expensive to get a university degree!

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is clearly relevant to the reproduction of class inequality within education, and supports the Marxist perspective on crime, within crime and deviance.

Sources 

https://www.thisisinsider.com/felicity-huffman-college-admissions-scheme-allegedly-disguised-bribe-as-charity-donation-2019-3

https://www.wsj.com/articles/an-idiots-guide-to-bribing-and-cheating-your-way-into-college-11552479762

https://www.vox.com/2015/6/15/8782389/harvard-donation-rebuttal

 

 

Oxford and Cambridge still seem to be biased towards the middle classes

Eight leading private schools send more pupils to Oxford and Cambridge than three-quarters of all state secondary schools.

These eight schools include some of the most expensive fee-paying independent schools in the country, including Westminster and Eton.

  • The eight schools sent 1, 310 pupils to Oxbridge fro 2015 to 2017,
  • Compared to 2,894 state schools which sent just 1, 220 pupils.

Now you might think this is simply due to the better standard of candidates in private schools leading to more applications to Oxford and Cambridge, however the statics below suggest Oxford and Cambridge and Russel Group universities bias their acceptances in favour of Independent schools and selective (grammar) schools and against comprehensives and the post-compulsory sector…..

private schools oxdridge.png

private schools oxford cambridge.pngThe statistics above show that…

  • Only 34% of  applications to Oxbridge are made from private schools, but 42% of offers are made to privately schooled pupils
  • 32% of applications to Oxbridge are made from comprehensive schools, but only 25% of offers are made to comprehensively schooled children.

This means you are significantly more likely to get an offer if you apply from a private school compared to a comprehensive school. A similar ‘offer bias’ is found for Russel Group universities.

Why might this be the case?

It could be that the standards of applications are better from Independent Schools (and selective schools), in fact this is quite likely given that such institutions are university factories, unlike comprehensive.

However, it might also just be pure class-bias, especially with the case of Oxbridge, where interviews and old-school tie connections might be significant enough to make the difference, given the relatively small numbers of applicants.

Possibly the best overall theory which explains this is ‘cultural capital‘ theory?

Sources/ Find out More

The Sutton Trust: Access to Advantage (full report)

Web link/ summary: https://www.suttontrust.com/newsarchive/oxbridge-over-recruits-from-eight-schools/

 

Bank of mum and dad: increasingly important for getting on the property ladder!

Young adults have become increasingly dependent on financial support from their parents to finance their first house purchases.

Those without access to parental support (i.e. those with poorer parents) are less likely to be able to get on the property ladder. 

This is according to the latest research from the Resolution Foundation with examines the impact on parental wealth on home ownership, exploring the relationship between parental support and the ability of young adults today to purchase their first property. 

Some of the key findings of the report were as follows:

The children of wealthier parents are much more likely to become homeowners themselves: from the mid 2000s, children with parents with property wealth were three times as likely to become homeowners as those without property wealth. 

The children of wealthier parents become homeowners at an earlier age than those of less wealthy parents. 

The report also found that:

    • This relationship continues to hold even once someone’s salary, their education, where they live and whether they are in a couple or not are all taken into account.
    • The relationship between parental wealth and their children’s homeownership has risen over time.

The significance of these statistics:

This is bleak reading for anyone interested in economic equality, because this trend suggests that what’s occurring here is the reproduction of class inequality.

The findings of this report will probably come as no surprise to anyone, it just seems to be confirming what is really damn obvious!

This report is probably a good example of a document that’s been produced because of a value-agenda (so the choice of topic is not value free!) and yet the research is probably ‘objective’ in the sense that it’s difficult to bias these figures…. finances tend to be ‘hard statistics’ and it’s difficult for researchers to skew them, even if they want a certain outcome!

The effect of private schools on future income

Men who went to a private school* go on to earn 78% more at age 29 than men who come from the lowest ‘social class’ quintile. 

Women who went to a private school* go on to earn 100% more at age 29 than women from the lowest ‘social class’ quintile.

private schools income.png

By age 29, men who had been to a private school earn on average £41 000 per annum, compared to only £23 000 per annum for those from the lowest SES background. 

The respective figures for women are £36 000 and £18000. 

Those who attended private school even earn considerably more on average than those from the top SES quintile. 

This is from the latest IFS study on the impact of Higher Education on future earnings

The significance of these statistics 

This is YET MORE evidence of how private schools seem to play a crucial role in the reproduction of class inequality. The chain seems to be:

  • Go to a private school and get hot-housed
  • Get into a Russel Group university
  • Get a better paid job. 

It also shows that we need to keep researching exactly how private schools confer advantages on children from rich backgrounds and on just exactly how material and cultural capital combine to get these kids better jobs as adults. 

You might like to read this post for more detailed info

Limitations with these statistics 

The above stats show all earners, including those who failed their GCSEs, so we’re not really comparing like with like when we compare highest and lowest SES categories, because so many people from the lowest SES category fail to get 5 A*-C grades at GCSE, which means they are much less likely to go to HE, which has a significant negative impact on their earnings at age 29.

With these stats we are going back to a cohort which sat their GCSEs over 10 years ago, so they are already dated, although in fairness, this is unavoidable with a longitudinal analysis such as this. 

*Given that only 7% of UK children go to private school, and that most have to pay fees, attendance at private school strongly suggests that this is the top tenth decile of students by ‘social class’ background, so the top half of the top fifth.